Is $117M Fire Dept. Needed?

By: 
Laurence Boland

Have you ever wondered why those huge red fire engines show up at a neighbor’s home and there is no smoke? When was the last time you had a house fire on your block?

When you study the organizational structure of the Long Beach Fire Department (LBFD) you see a $117 million department that is staffed with 21 fire stations and crews fully capable of the fire suppression responsibilities we expect.

However, there is a huge problem between appearance and reality. You would think that for $117 million and all those fire stations, fire suppression is what keeps our Fire Department busy. Wrong. Only about 10 percent of LBFD 911 calls are fires.

What does the LBFD do the other 90 percent of the time? Mostly paramedic calls.

What happened to all those fires we thought the Fire Department was fighting? Fire technology, effective building codes, code enforcement, smoke detectors, etc. have diminished the need.

How did the Fire Department fool us for so long? They had help. The fire union can legally give council members cash payoffs of their campaign costs, something that has keep the LBFD’s huge, obsolete bureaucratic staffing structure alive and its 10 percent of 911 fire calls a secret. Yet, all the time continuing the illusion that the LBFD was busy fighting fires.

At the same time LBFD command and control are run by a fire chief overseeing a huge bureaucracy keeping the illusion that fire suppression is why the LBFD exists. More illusions come by sending fire engines all over town, sirens blasting, the American flag waving, when you and I thought they were going to a fire when they were in route to a medical call.

This is the big lie that is perpetuated by a City Council that is compromised by fire union money. This illusion has – over the past 40 years – cost tens of millions by a bloated, grossly overstaffed department, devoid of accountability and modern management techniques, with a salary schedule based on the undue influence of the union money on the City Council.

Bloated Salaries

Why is it that the top five highest paid third-tier battalion chiefs cost more than any of the top five city executives? In the private sector, when a business drops from 100 percent to 10 percent of sales, you either change to the new normal or you go broke. In Long Beach – administered by a compromised City Council – you keep a defunct shell of an old-fashioned Fire Department fully funded at $117,000,000, losing millions. What we do have is an over-priced, tradition-driven department of smoke and mirrors.

Role of Paramedics Downplayed

It is very clear that the fire union money is used to also demonize and marginalize paramedics who can do medical calls at half the cost. A recent plot to name firefighter crews as first responders and marginalize paramedics is a bogus claim by the LBFD that fire crews had lower response times than paramedic vans. That’s true, except that there are almost twice as many fire apparatuses as paramedic vans. Of course, fire engine crews can have shorter response times with twice the number of fire engines/trucks.

With 90 percent of fire 911 calls being medical, why does the LBFD have only half the number of paramedic vans in inventory, compared to fire engine inventory? Because the fire chiefs have followed union demands, that’s why.

The LBFD has marginalized paramedics by never designating them as a group within the department. However, the real purpose of the equipment imbalance scam goes much deeper. The scam has now given firefighters total access to 100 percent of LBPD’s medical call business. The vast majority of fire districts in the U.S. do not send a fire engine and crew to medical calls. Only on the east and west coasts where unions rule will you see fire engines dispatched to medical calls.

How can paramedics cost half that of fire crews? Simple, just follow the best practices of L.A. County Fire, which serves over 3,000,000 customers and sends a crew of only two paramedics, backed up by two EMTs, which are provided by a public/private partnership with local private ambulance providers.

For more than 40 years not one private ambulance company has ever been allowed in Long Beach. It appears that fire union money has been very effective.

What’s the Solution?

Short Term: Stop the fire union money from flowing into and corrupting our City Council and other elected city officials, with a ballot measure that prohibits private special interest groups – like unions, developers, railroads, banks. associations, lobbyists, etc. – to contribute to elected officials. They must re cruse themselves from supporting or voting for any agenda item that financially benefits [a special interest] from the passage of the agenda item, either directly or indirectly.

Long Term: Disband the outdated Fire Department that no longer is relevant to fire suppression needs. Transfer paramedic services to the Health and Human Services Department with a director of paramedic services – possibly an emergency department physician – to manage the paramedic program. Let the paramedics choose a new union to represent them.

How: Start a grassroots ballot measure. Given that the City Council is totally compromised by fire union money, such a measure would never be initiated within City Hall. Reform in Long Beach will never be enacted as long as Robert Garcia is mayor and we allow the City Council to be corrupted by union money. Only a vote of the people can stop the corruption and save taxpayers millions.

Category:

Comments

$117M Fire Dept.

I read the March 11 editorial by Laurence Boland with confusion and bewilderment about how someone could get something so wrong about local government. I'm glad my 33 years with LA County Fire can help him get a few things right.

The editorial reeks of hatred for governmental unions. That's fine, basically his opinion, but in the end, he wants to cut off all donations from everybody to elected office holders. Can someone please tell Mr. Boland that those donations are as guaranteed under free speech provisions of the U.S. Constitution as his hate filled, ill-informed and ignorant rant about the Fire Department?

Boland basically wants to get rid of the Fire Department because it averages only 10% calls for fires. So, a daily department average of 200 calls means the city has 20 fires in a day. Wow, who will put them out? As a high rise or residential fire spreads, who will eventually stop it before someone dies? Has a firefighter ever been killed on a medical call? No, that's why 10% of calls take 50% of the department’s training. It’s dangerous, ugly work with pretty complicated tactics and equipment.

Mr. Boland's speech is also protected as he gets basically everything about the Fire Department [wrong]. Mr. Boland tries to say the department’s paramedics and firefighters are separate. Doesn't he know that MOST firefighters are paramedics; ALL are EMTs? Yes, the same people that come on the van, also work on the engines and trucks. It’s all one system. When a fire call goes out, paramedics and EMTs become firefighters and vice versa. The only "single function" employees are ambulance EMTs, who are mostly firefighters in training.

In Long Beach it’s a system that works well. Our Fire Department is one of the best in the country with EMS, fire, hazmat, urban rescue (USAR) all included. As Mr. Boland rants about how it works elsewhere, he's not telling you that most of those areas have broken systems with very little fire coverage that had to shudder understaffed and underfunded volunteer fire stations years ago. One of the government services I expect from Long Beach is a paid, professional fire department with fire-based EMS. And yes, I'm willing to pay for it with my taxes.

Will Pryor

 

Mr. Pryor, thank you for sharing your opinion, we need checks and balances in our diverse political system.
Concerning your comment about my negative views on government workers having collective bargaining rights, yes, I share the same beliefs as former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who was a staunch supporter of private sector unions and their fight against companies that abused American workers! So, why would Roosevelt embrace collective bargaining for private sector unions and not support government workers? The answer: Roosevelt was against government workers having collective bargaining because they would GIFT themselves!
For example, when the UAW is negotiating with GM they don't send gifts to GM's board to influence them to give in to the unions demands! However, the LB Fire Union can and does send gifts to City Council members in the form of CASH contributions to their campaigns, topped off with their valuable endorsements! Why? Because the council votes on salary and benefits including work rules and the union counts on these gifts to influence more money for members' financial gains! Remember, the LB Fire Union is a private special interest lobby!

Most folks are unaware that if you are a member of the LBFD and you desire overtime all you have to do is ask and it's yours. Also, many make more on overtime than from their regular pay.

To say this is the most pampered group with the least work involved is putting it mildly. Many people work and risk their lives on a daily basis, but these folks risk posterior blisters far more than anything else.

Unfortunately, Long Beach’s councils, mayors and leaders have always had a very light touch on the truth but at least the LBFD gets a great pension as well! What a gig.

Vance Frederick

Sir, please contact 562-570-2500 to schedule your ride-along. Ensure it is with one of the downtown/midtown units. Thank you.

The light of day is shown on the LBFD. Great article. We should review the policy, practices, and budgets for the LBFD and make responsible changes. Thank you for your article.

Mr. Boland, my first thought when reading your uneducated view of the fire service was “who hurt this man?”.
I’m sorry you never made it through the process of becoming a firefighter, many try their whole lives and still don’t get hired. Don’t beat yourself up my good man. Becoming a firefighter takes an incredible amount of sacrifice, dedication and bravery.
You should be looking into absurd govt. spending projects (like the high speed rail to nowhere) instead of wasting your time attempting to tear down a valuable and much needed service to the community.
I have a feeling (due to your advanced age and ailing physical health) you will be needing EMS services in the not to distant future. Trust me when I say,that you will benefit much more from the current staffing model than the garbage one you propose.
God Bless You

It’s ok sir, we’ll still do everything possible to help you when the time comes that you need it.

Good luck taking on the fire dept. Public unions shoveling cash into corrupt politicians hands leads to the "you scratch my back Ill scratch yours" type of payola operation that is going on in LB. And to the poster who complained about "first amendment rights" well I think corruption is more important that what a public union has to say. (and yes thanks to the supreme court money equals speech..what a great country) We should disband LBFD and go with county fire. maybe that will stop the bleeding. Of course Mungo is all in on FD stuff. She is now Executive Director/President for the Los Angeles County Fire Department Foundation. No doubt she got that job after posing for so many pictures with firefighters for 50 or so campaign flyers when last re-elected. fortunately she is headed out the door.

Mr. Boland, I am a native of Long Beach and sleep well at night knowing that if at any time during the day or night that by simply dialing 9-1-1 from my telephone that less that four minutes I will have at least one engine or truck company crew of well-trained highly rated (I.S.O.=Class One) firefighters of varying ranks (Captain, Engineer, Firefighter EMT, Firefighter PARAMEDIC at my front door to offer basic or advanced life support measures to assure I am stable enough to take to a trauma center nearby. Or if my home or neighbor's home were to catch fire I am aware that Long Beach has some very fine fire suppression apparatus in which to suppress the flames, while they save my life and others as well as our property. In all honesty sir, I don't think personally that you yourself would want anything less than the typical response I have just described for you.
My writings are based on true real life experiences with the Long Beach Fire Department for over fifty years. Remember to support your firefighters for the life they save may be your own!

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